CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that middle school students performed worse in social studies in 2019. They performed better, with 41.4% of students scoring on or above grade level this year, compared to only 36.2% in 2018.
A day after Hamilton County Schools officials announced "historic, unprecedented" growth in student academic achievement, the Tennessee Department of Education released the results of the 2019 TNReady tests.
Despite most students still performing below grade level, Hamilton County students did better than their peers across the state in a several areas. The district performed so well that Hamilton County Schools ranked second only to Williamson County in terms of overall student growth for the 2018-19 school year.
Superintendent Bryan Johnson told the school board at a meeting Thursday that the district was going to retire the goal of "being the fastest-improving school district in Tennessee."
"Instead, we'll work on being the best school district in the state," Johnson said.
"[Wednesday's] results showed the district's rate of improvement is significantly above the state. [Thursday's] information shows our children's absolute achievement is outperforming the state, and these results are a testament to the tireless efforts of our teachers, staff and students with the support of our families," Johnson said.
Here's a look at how Hamilton County students fared this year compared to the rest of the state:
Last school year, slightly more students in Hamilton County between grades 3 and 8 were reading on grade level, with 33.4% on or above grade level, up from 33.2% in 2018.
More than 40% of third- to eighth-graders were testing on or above grade level in math — 43.2% — up from 35.6% in 2018. In fact, more students in every grade 3-8 and in Algebra I were on track or above grade level this year than last year. Some grades saw nearly 10% increases in students who are on track: 47.3% of third-grade students tested on or above grade level in math compared to 36.5% in 2018, and 49% of fourth-graders did the same, compared to 38.8% in 2018.
Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn noted significant improvements in mathematics across the state.
"I'm impressed with the improvement we've seen in mathematics," she said in a statement. "The dedication of our educators, commitment to implementing high-quality materials, and unwavering student focus is what sets Tennessee apart and will continue to be the catalyst for moving our state forward."
The number of fifth-grade students performing on or above grade level in math increased by more than 5% statewide, and the number of Algebra I students performing on grade level — 27.4% — was up 3% statewide.
Hamilton County Schools also was ranked a Level 5 school district, the top designation in the state, based on student growth and achievement this year. Last year, the district earned a 3 in Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System scores — the first time the district had met student growth expectations since the TVAAS system was revamped in 2012.
Based on TVAAS scores, 66 of Hamilton County's schools scored a Level 4 or a 5, and 45 of those were Level 5 schools.
The district made achievement gains in nearly all subject areas compared to last year too, with many of those showing gains of more than 5%. The district also improved achievement faster than the state in seven of eight areas," said Shannon Moody, director of accountability and research for the district.
"The progress shown by students in Hamilton County Schools was wide and deep — touching every learning community, every subject area, and every subgroup," she said.
Moody also noted that, from her perspective as a former state education department employee, Hamilton County's results this year were not a fluke.
"We know that [the students] exceeded expectations, we know that this is historic, because as we look at past history, we haven't seen anything like this, and we know that there is significant evidence that our students outpaced their peers," Moody said. "This kind of result, one, is not typical and, two, is not a fluke. You don't see fives across the board everywhere without intentional, purposeful change happening. It's a pretty amazing metric to see at this point. It means we are improving the trajectory for students in each of these areas."
The district did see challenges in middle school English and language arts, though, which Chief of Schools Justin Robertson attested to at Wednesday's celebration.
Here are this year's scores in math and English:
The number of students in grades 6, 7 and 8 who tested on or above grade level in English and language arts all decreased this year, compared to 2018.
Only 30.7% of sixth-grade students were on track, compared to 32.7% in 2018; 32.3% of seventh-graders were on track in English and language arts, compared to 34.6% in 2018, and only 27.9% of eighth-grade students met or exceeded expectations compared to 28.2% in 2018.
Middle school students performed better though in social studies this year, with 41.4% of students scoring on track compared to 36.2% in 2018. Hamilton County students also outperformed their peers with only 40.9% of students testing on or above track statewide.
Robertson emphasized the progress seen across most areas, though.
"Hamilton County Schools exceeded growth expectations for all students in every major grade band, subject category and overall," Robertson said in a statement Thursday. "This is historic because at no time since the modern accountability era has Hamilton County Schools had 5s across the board."
Johnson said the district's next steps are to celebrate, but also to dig in and work on replicating the results.
"We definitely want to celebrate, sometimes we put our heads down and just focus on the work, but it's important to put your head up and celebrate that, because that's the fuel our system needs to take the next steps," Johnson said. "But we want to replicate and scale the work ... that we are doing so that it is the absolute norm."
Contact Meghan Mangrum at email@example.com or 423-757- 6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.
This story was updated Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, at 11:30 p.m.
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